Manners & Misdemeanors

The 20 Most Common Punctuation Mistakes We All Make

You're either not using enough commas-or you're using way too many.
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The blue books and grammar packets of middle school may seem a little fuzzy now, but it's never too late to brush up on the writing basics. Get a quick refresher on those colon and comma rules ASAP, before you fire off an email to the boss.

OMITTING COMMAS FOR NONESSENTIAL ELEMENTS


Anything that modifies a sentence without changing its meaning — whether it's a word, phrase or clause — should go in between a pair of commas. For example, the "however" in this sentence adds contrast, not clarification.

SETTING OFF ESSENTIAL INFORMATION WITH COMMAS


Likewise, any info pertinent to the sentence's meaning should not get commas. Helpful hint: The word "that" always signals essential elements, while the word "which" indicates inessential elements.

SPLICING THE COMMA


Comma splices occur when a comma separates two independent clauses. If each part could stand on its own as a complete sentence, you need to break them up. Add a coordinating conjunction like "and" or "but," or use a period or semicolon instead.

JOINING SENTENCES WITH A COLON


Quick recap: Semi-colons usually join related independent clauses, while colons often introduce a list or quotation. A period can split up two separate statements as well.

USING TOO MANY COMMAS


Between nonessential elements and coordinating conjunctions, the number of necessary commas can add up fast. To limit the number of distracting pauses, stylish writers nix the "ands" and "buts," dividing independent clauses into stand-alone sentences.

WRITING RUN-ON SENTENCES


Similar to a comma splice, a complete lack of punctuation between two independent clauses is also a big no-no. Insert a semicolon or period for a quick fix.

PUTTING A COLON AFTER A FRAGMENT


Most people know to put a colon before a list, but that's not always the case. If the preceding part sounds like an incomplete sentence on its own, skip it.

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USING SINGLE QUOTES OUTSIDE OF DOUBLE QUOTES


There's a lot of misinformation floating around about single quotation marks, including using them for short phrases, internal thoughts or dubious information. Luckily, the rule is quite simple. Only use them inside quotations when the person whom you're quoting is quoting something else.

USING HYPHENS TO SET OFF PHRASES


Those horizontal lines aren't interchangeable. Longer en or em dashes should bookend any interrupting information instead of shorter hyphens. Most word processors will automatically create them when you type two hyphens in a row.

COMBINING TWO WORDS WITH A DASH


On the other hand, use hyphens to combine two words or numbers into a single concept. The smaller lines can also connect prefixes like self- or ex-.

PUTTING SENTENCE-ENDING PUNCTUATION OUTSIDE OF QUOTES


This one's easy-peasy. Periods, question marks and exclamation points all go before the closing quotation mark.

USING OXFORD COMMAS INCONSISTENTLY


It's a heated debate among grammarians, but there's no definitive rule about using the Oxford comma, or the comma that goes before the last item in a list. Your best bet? Side with one school of thought and stick with it.

MIXING UP IT'S AND ITS


"Its" is possessive. "It's" replaces "it is." Got it?

PUTTING TWO SPACES AFTER A PERIOD


Anyone who's used a typewriter likely prefers the two-space rule, as the extra stroke helped distinguish new sentences. However, modern computer fonts automatically correct for spacing and legibility problems, prompting most style guides to advocate for a single space.

ADDING EXTRA APOSTROPHES


Personal pronouns like hers, his, its, yours, ours and theirs already indicate the possessive, so they don't need any punctuation indicating the fact. Pro tip: "Whose" implies ownership while "who's" stands for "who is" or "who has."

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ADDING UNNECESSARY QUOTES


They've invaded sentences, signs, and billboards for far too long. Superfluous quotation marks don't add emphasis like some typists assume. If anything, it makes the reader distrust whatever's inside them, like whether that bottle of "Pinot" is really just grape juice.

NOT HYPHENATING WORDS SERVING AS A SINGLE ADJECTIVE


In this case, the entire phrase "35-year-old" describes the word "woman." On the flip side, compound modifiers that go after a noun (e.g., the woman is 35 years old) don't get hyphens.

HYPHENATING ADVERBS THAT END IN -LY


Don't worry about any potential ambiguity. Words ending in -ly inherently indicate that they're modifying whatever's next, whether it's a noun or an adjective.

USING AM AND PM


While some style guides skip the abbreviating periods, a.m. and p.m. respectively stand for the Latin phrases ante meridiem (before midday) and post meridiem (after midday). Publications that follow AP style always write them in lowercase too.

OMITTING A COMMA AFTER E.G. OR I.E.


Besides the periods in between, most official guides recommend including a comma after each abbreviation. And if you're debating which one to use, remember that "i.e." equates to "that is," while "e.g." essentially means "for example."

From: Good Housekeeping US

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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